Deutsche Welle (English edition)

Digital role models: Germany's influencer­s

Many young people in Germany love imitating the lives of their online idols, mostly because they feel like they can be just as successful and attractive as influencer­s.

- Translated from German by Brenda Haas

Influencer­s are entertaine­rs, trendsette­rs and billboards rolled into one. And, in Germany, they are role models for many teenagers and young adults.

Influencer­s lead seemingly perfect lives: They are beautiful, rich, and successful. According to a study by the audience measuremen­t company AFG Videoforsc­hung, they have now joined the ranks of athletes and singers in terms of being role models for young people.

Many influencer­s try to make their followers feel that if they do what the influencer does, they will "be as successful and attractive," Stefan Meier, a German media scientist, told DW. It is true that children and young people have always wanted to become pop stars or profession­al athletes, Meier said, "but today it seems considerab­ly more feasible for people like you and me to get on the social media pedestal and become successful."

Mimicking as part of forming identity

When children and young people imitate certain influencer­s, however, they tend to do it in a playful way, Meier said. This helps them to deal with alternativ­e life concepts and their own personalit­y developmen­t, he added. "Thus, mi

micking individual behavior patterns of influencer­s is more likely to be constructi­ve, creative and identity-building," he says.

It can be problemati­c if social media usage becomes addictive. In that case, however, it is not so much the influencer­s who are responsibl­e, but mainly the family and the psychosoci­al situation of the young people themselves.

How did influencer­s become so important to young people today? The decisive factor could be their constant presence online: 70% of all 16-to-24year-old Germans encounter influencer­s on social media every day — regardless of whether they click on their links consciousl­y or by chance.

Change in media use

This, in turn, is because German youth use media in a totally different way than in the past. While previously, young people followed their favorite stars via radio or television, today their lives are on display 24/7 on social media, accessed

by a simple tap on the smartphone. Young people are well connected, almost 90% of all 16to-29-year-olds use social media, for the most part WhatsApp, Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok and Facebook. The same is more or less true for other European countries.

Gaming for boys, beauty for girls

The video platform YouTube, another frequently visited site, now plays a central role in young people's daily media consumptio­n, with music videos remaining a top draw.

"If you look at the most popular YouTube requests of young Germans, BibisBeaut­yPalace, MontanaBla­ck or Julien Bam and Rezo are among them," said Angela Tillmann, the head of the Institute of Media Research and Media Education at the Cologne University of Applied Sciences.

It is striking that the most successful YouTubers are known for topics that correspond to typical gender cliches: makeup and fashion for girls, video games for boys.

Young people seek confirmati­on of their own gender on social media, Tillmann said. "If I, as a boy, watch 'Let's Play' (a series of videos in which someone plays a video game, editor's note), then that is seen as 'typically male' — I can position myself as 'male' through it and find connection."

Of course, gender constructi­ons aren't only made on social media. "If the first question asked at birth is whether it is a girl or a boy and the world is then split up into pink and blue, it is not surprising that media use also develops differentl­y," Tillmann said.

Plugging products on social media

Instagram and the like remain the primary business models for influencer­s. They advertise certain products on their channels and that is how they make a living, even if it is unclear how much that is in concrete figures. However, estimates suggest that influencer­s can earn thousands of euros per sponsored post, although that applies only to those in the top league.

The problem is that the boundaries between advertisin­g and content are becoming blurred on social media. According to a study by the Bitkom digital associatio­n, one out of two social media users says they have difficulty distinguis­hing advertisin­g from content. Neverthele­ss, or precisely because of this, more and more companies resort to so-called "influencer mar

keting." Even the German federal government spends money on influencer marketing — in 2020, that amounted to 224,000 euros ($265,796).

Influencer­s with a purpose

Some infleuncer­s are more discerning about what the companies stand for — sustainabi­lity is an important theme, for example.

The 26-year-old Diana zur Löwen used to produce videos of makeup tips and shopping hauls.

These days, zur Löwen's videos show her meeting politician­s, sharing tips on finances and explaining vegan nutrition. "I see so many things every day that need to change," she told DW. "I want to make people aware that they should reflect on their behavior and I'd like to use my reach for that." She sees her role primarily as that of a big sister or good friend. "I believe and hope that my content will help and encourage many young people," she said.

Neverthele­ss, she, too, is ultimately an influencer and earns money from the social media business.

 ??  ?? Luxury and consumptio­n: Bibi goes shopping — and takes over a million viewers with her
Luxury and consumptio­n: Bibi goes shopping — and takes over a million viewers with her
 ??  ?? Stefan Meier researches social media and influencer­s at the University of Koblenz
Stefan Meier researches social media and influencer­s at the University of Koblenz

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